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Bonding with boards

Adaptive surfing creates connection for Pullman, Dickinson

Victor Pullman (first photo) and Hobie Dickinson (second photo, with Pullman), shown Friday at Cove Park, will take part in an adaptive surfing event this weekend on Oahu. * The Maui News / BRAD SHERMAN photo

KIHEI — For the uninitiated in adaptive surfing, one of the most striking parts of a session is the physical work that gets done beforehand.

In the case of a paralyzed surfer like Victor Pullman — “Vyktah” to his friends — there’s extra padding that goes on first, with the help of someone else. That role goes to able-bodied Hobie Dickinson, who then lifts Pullman out of his wheelchair and carries him into the water and onto a board.

Once on the waves, Dickinson, on a separate board, helps position Pullman, who then rides while prone. 

It takes a level of trust, which the Wailuku residents say they discovered almost immediately.

“After I met Hobie, I just felt so comfortable with the way he handled me on the board and carried me from the chair,” Pullman, 34, said Friday at Cove Park. “I couldn’t ask for more. It’s awesome. … Being out there, having an awesome friend like Hobie, being out there in the sun, the waves, the surf, the water, you tend to just block all that out. In the beginning it was thought about a lot, but now it’s just about getting out there and try to bomb a nice wave, get a nice face.”

* The Maui News / BRAD SHERMAN photo

Pullman grew up doing “everything in the ocean — bodyboarding, surfing, fishing, diving,” but thought that was over when a car crash on Kauai in 2013 left his lower body paralyzed.

“The first year was a real hard year, mentally and physically,” Pullman said, noting the importance of the support he got from his girlfriend, Tisha Hoopii, and children Shandon, Kuhela and Shane.

Then, in October of last year, he met Dickinson.

“I was doing some errands in town,” Pullman said. “He approached me, actually. He ran up on me and asked me if I wanted to go surfing. I was like, ‘What?’ I never thought of surfing at all. A little, when I was on Oahu, from the rehab, I heard they had some adaptive surfing, but I never really paid attention. … The first time, I didn’t tell anybody. I was like, ‘I don’t even know this guy. I’ve known him for, like, five seconds.’ “

A connection took place, though, and less than a year later, they will be together for this weekend’s Hawaii Surfing Association event at Oahu’s Haleiwa Beach, with an eye toward Duke’s OceanFest, scheduled for August in Waikiki.

Victor Pullman is helped up the Cove Park shore by Hobie Dickinson. * The Maui News / BRAD SHERMAN photo

Dickinson 34, became involved in helping adaptive surfers after a chance meeting on Oahu with John Ross-Duggan, a two-time Paralympic bronze medalist in sailing and a pioneer in surfing for disabled athletes. Dickinson, never shy about meeting a stranger, described being on the beach when Ross-Duggan was looking for someone to help get him and his board into the water.

They struck a friendship and remained close until Ross-Duggan died in a sailing accident in 2013.

Last year, Dickinson learned from Ross-Duggan’s sister that she still had his boards and was looking for a way to have them be useful.

“It was like a voice in my head, like, ‘You can have it back now,’ “ Dickinson said. “The love I had for that man drives me to keep doing it.”

Dickinson would go on to work with Bond Camp and Eric Walls, which eventually led to meeting another adaptive surfer, California’s Jeff Andrews, when Andrews was undergoing therapy on Maui.

Andrews won an OceanFest title last year, which helped motive Dickinson to look further at formal contests in addition to recreational surfing.

That means fundraising — including online at gofundme.com/spreading-smiles-for-miles — and looking for volunteers. A car wash took place last month, and more are planned, along with a fishing tournament. Details will be posted on Dickinson’s Facebook page — he uses his full name, Hobart Wesley Dickinson, on the social media site.

Dickinson said he is reluctant to make money an issue, but said: “I’ve gone as far as I can out of my own heart and pocket.”

Pullman is also helping to spread the word by telling friends in wheelchairs about adaptive surfing. 

“You cannot exercise the same every day, especially when you only can do so much,” he said. “Getting in the water is one of the best therapies.”

* Brad Sherman is at sports@mauinews.com

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